A Brief Look At Google's New 'Ranking Documents' Patent


Keeping on top of recent algorithm changes is a full-time job in itself, which is why SEOs are always on the lookout for the inside scoop on recent developments at Google Inc. To make our lives a little easier, the search engine giant often files patents in order to protect its most innovative inventions. These patents are then readily available online and often provide us with a valuable insight into the way in which algorithms are changing – and the techniques we need to employ to carry on doing what we do best!

The most recent patent to date, named ‘Ranking Documents’, was filed in August 2012 and has been met with mixed speculation from prominent SEO bloggers.

The new patent basically outlines the way in which Google will modify the search engine positions of a website if it believes the webmaster is deliberately trying to influence his site’s positions using ‘rank-modifying spamming techniques’. Rank-modifying spamming techniques are determined as methods that are intended to manipulate the rankings of a site, and many SEOs have determined that Google is referring to a number of different black hat practices here, including keyword stuffing, invisible text and tiny font sizes, page redirects and unnatural link submissions.

From what the industry can gather, this algorithm will have the following effect: if you make changes to the page in question, and these changes have a direct impact on its ranking positions, Google will flag up this ‘unusual’ activity and may respond differently to how you expect.

Are you panicking yet?

Google will have identified that the changes you’ve made may be intended to raise your site’s ranking position from an ‘old rank’ (your previous position) to a ‘target rank’ (an improved rank). The algorithm’s new rank transition function will kick in and the search engine may apply one of the following responses:

–          Negative response (ie your positions will drop)

–          Time-based delay response

–          Random response

–          Unexpected response

According to an analysis presented by Bill Slawski, Google will then see how you respond to your position’s movement (whether it’s largely negative or just less positive than you’d hoped). It will monitor any further amendments you make to your site, it will keep an eye on the links that are pointing to the page, and if it assumes you’re spamming your site to try and rank higher, it may choose to penalise your site indefinitely.

I bet you’re panicking now.

Potential Issues With This Ranking Factor

Clearly, the aim of the update is to eliminate spammers. The main issue that’s been flagged up since the release of the patent is the potential unfairness of it all. Web marketers want to gain as much exposure for their site as possible and most (though not all!) want to achieve this by carrying out optimisation tactics that adhere to Google’s guidelines. The goalposts have been moved quite considerably, however, and perfectly innocent webmasters could now end up doing their rankings more harm than good. If Google identifies a site as spam, it could analyse it further, it could ignore it completely, or it could degrade its rankings significantly. Either way, the site will undoubtedly be in a much worse predicament than previously.

The unpredictability of the rank transition function also makes it harder for SEOs to carry out any credible tests into what makes a site rank. The sector is increasingly relying on experimentation to determine exactly what is working and what isn’t, so this update presents yet another stumbling block for those desperate to crack optimisation by exploring their own methods and ideas.

Freelance SEO Essex provides cheap SEO services to SMEs in the UK. The team at the agency are dedicated to exploring recent developments in the industry and believe in educating their clients on SEO to the best of their ability!

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